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A New Atrium, a New Heart for Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops

How a timely design query helped designers reconceive a merely functional space into a vibrant, multi-purpose atrium—an aptly metaphorical new heart for the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

In 2019, plans were unveiled for a much-needed patient-care tower at Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) in Kamloops. When completed, the $447-million, nine-storey facility will comprise part of the larger RIH campus and will provide surgical, respiratory, maternal, and child services. The new building will also offer 30 single rooms for mental health and substance-use patients.

Natural Light and Views of Nature in Healthcare Design

With mental health playing such a key role in the planning of the new facility, designers endeavoured to integrate evidence-based design principles, including providing views to the outdoors, that are known to promote healing. RIH is surrounded by the North and South Thompson rivers, as well as mountains and grasslands. The new building is designed to give patients, staff, and visitors access to those healing nature views, wherever possible.

Natural light and views towards nature are major healing elements for healthcare facility spaces,” explains Farshad Jamali, Architect AIBC with Parkin Architects. “Accordingly, devising innovative ways to bring as much natural light into interior spaces and to provide scenic views of the natural landscape informed the design of the Royal Inland Hospital new patient-care tower from the beginning.”

From Liminal Space to Vibrant Hub

When the new facility was first conceived, the idea simply had been to connect the new building with those existing on the campus with a corridor. Along with lead interior designer, Mary Chernoff, Jamali saw potential in the proposed liminal space.

“We realised there was this empty courtyard space that was a blank slate,” recalls Jamali. ”We asked ourselves if it was possible to connect existing and new, but with a twist. Could we create a destination that could accommodate a multitude of purposes to create a hub that was more than just a space on the way to somewhere else?”

The answer was: Certainly! Thus, a simple connecting corridor was reconceptualized as a unique space—a new heart—meant to pump energy, liveliness, and light into all surrounding areas and bring people, staff, patients, and family together.

A New Atrium, a New Heart

The three-storey-high atrium space at RIH differs in character from its neighbour in the new building where the main lobby will reside. The latter space will contain all the business and busyness of entering, registering, wayfinding, and orientation to the hospital campus. The atrium, on the other hand, will function with a dual purpose: a thruway for those moving among buildings on the hospital campus, and a place of respite for those who need it.

Where the new tower and the existing buildings connect to create the atrium space, a skylight will provide controlled natural light and time-of-day sky views for the offices and rooms at all three levels in the three buildings. Remotely controlled motorized roller shades will help control any glare.

A coffee shop on the ground floor of the space will serve users in the all-glazed indoor space which is also connected to staff and community-access patios. A full-height, super graphic of a renowned local nature scene as well as large planters planned for the space will add natural beauty to this gathering place.

Its size and special acoustic treatments will also allow for major gatherings and events. The carefully planned dual-purpose design of the space and its tucked-away location will ensure activities in the atrium do not interrupt the flow and everyday business of the main lobby.

“This type of space may not have been part of the original program, but it is a space that organically evolved from the configuration of the other pieces of this campus in relation to its beautiful natural surroundings,” enthuses Jamali. “Once we identified it, the team developed it into a wonderful addition to the new tower and the campus as a whole.”

View a time-lapse video of the brilliant hospital architecture behind the atrium at the Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) in Kamloops, British Columbia.


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